The Operations Man: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Usama bin Ladin has always sought publicity for his activities; not surprisingly, therefore, most attention paid to his networks concentrates on the man himself. But, as noted in this issue's Dossier, he is primarily the organizer and banker of his operations, not the operational planner.
Although it was not known as this issue went to press who might have planned the air attacks on New York and Washington, the man Western investigators tend to characterize as Usama bin Ladin's operations chief is Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some think that Zawahiri is actually the planner of the more dramatic attacks of recent years, and the probable successor to Bin Ladin. An Egyptian and founder of Egypt's Jihad Organization, which was involved in the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Zawahiri has been closely allied with Bin Ladin since some time prior to 1998, and has been often identified as being one of the key operational chiefs, along with another radical of Egyptian origin, Muhammad Atef. A physician by training, Zawahiri may also be Bin Ladin's personal doctor; Bin Ladin is said to suffer from a number of serious ailments.
Zawahiri was born in Egypt (apparently in Giza) on June 19, 1951. Trained as a physician, he became involved in radical Islamist politics and was a founder of the Jihad Organization, which in addition to its role in the assassination of Sadat, also staged an uprising at Asyut in Upper Egypt at the same time in October 1981.
In the wake of the crackdown on Jihad, Zawahiri served three years in prison, but as he had not been directly linked to the Sadat assassination itself, eventually went free in 1984. He is said to have briefly resumed medical practice in the Cairo area. But by 1987 he was in Afghanistan and neighboring parts of Pakistan, founding a local office for Jihad in Peshawar. That is probably the point he first established links to Bin Ladin's operations; though thus an "Afghan" Arab, it is not known if he took part in military operations against the Soviets. Zawahiri's whereabouts in subsequent years are not always known and he may have spent some time in Europe or back in Egypt. He has been reported by Egyptian security forces to have traveled on French, Swiss and Dutch passports at various times.
Jihad's operations within Egypt gradually faded away, with the similar but separate Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya accounting for most of the attacks in the 1990s; Jihad may not have carried out an operation in Egypt proper since 1993. Zawahiri is under indictment in Egypt for plotting an attack against former Interior Minister Zaki Badr, and in more recent years has been charged with other crimes.
Jihad's operations meanwhile became more international, and many Egyptian Jihad members reportedly operated out of Albania into Bosnia and Kosovo.
In early 1998, Zawahiri's name came second on the famous "fatwa" in which Bin Ladin declared the responsibility of Muslims to kill Americans, including civilians, anywhere. (Bin Ladin is an engineer and Zawahiri a physician; neither has the religious authority to issue a fatwa.) By that time, he had apparently merged the Peshawar operations of the Jihad Organization into Bin Ladin's al-Qaida organization, though the fatwa was issued in the name of a new "World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders".
Later in 1998 came the trial in Egypt of several Jihad members known as "Albanian returnees", and reports that Zawhiri's brother, Muhammad, had been turned over to Egyptian authorities by the United Arab Emirates. Those events preceded the attacks on the US Embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. Zawahiri, along with Bin Ladin, Muhammad Atef, and others, was indicted in the US for those attacks. There is a $5 million reward for his apprehension. In early 2000, Arab press reports indicated that the Jihad Organization in Egypt had removed Zawahiri as its Amir, being disaffected with his alliance with Bin Ladin. Others suggest, however, that he had long since ceased to have real influence in the internal Egyptian organization.
Zawahiri knows French as well as Arabic.
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